A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Lily Cardew inspected curiously the east side neighborhood through which the taxi was passing. She knew vaguely that she was in the vicinity of one of the Cardew mills, but she had never visited any of the Cardew plants. She had never been permitted to do so. Perhaps the neighborhood would have impressed her more had she not seen, in the camp, that life can be stripped sometimes to its essentials, and still have lost very little. But the dinginess depressed her. Smoke was in the atmosphere, like a heavy fog. Soot lay on the window-sills, and mingled with street dust to form little black whirlpools in the wind. Even the white river steamers, guiding their heavy laden coal barges with the current, were gray with soft coal smoke. The foam of the river falling in broken cataracts from their stern wheels was oddly white in contrast.
Everywhere she began to see her own name. "Cardew" was on the ore hopper cars that were moving slowly along a railroad spur. One of the steamers bore "Anthony Cardew" in tall black letters on its side. There was a narrow street called "Cardew Way."
Aunt Elinor lived on Cardew Way. She wondered if Aunt Elinor found that curious, as she did. Did she resent these ever-present reminders of her lost family? Did she have any bitterness because the very grayness of her skies was making her hard old father richer and more powerful?
Yet there was comfort, stability and a certain dignity about Aunt Elinor's house when she reached it. It stood in the district, but not of it, withdrawn from the street in a small open space which gave indication of being a flower garden in summer. There were two large gaunt trees on either side of a brick walk, and that walk had been swept to the last degree of neatness. The steps were freshly scoured, and a small brass door-plate, like a doctor's sign, was as bright as rubbing could make it. "James Doyle," she read.
Suddenly she was glad she had come. The little brick house looked anything but tragic, with its shining windows, its white curtains and its evenly drawn shades. Through the windows on the right came a flickering light, warm and rosy. There must be a coal fire there. She loved a coal fire.
She had braced herself to meet Aunt Elinor at the door, but an elderly woman opened it.
"Mrs. Doyle is in," she said; "just step inside."
She did not ask Lily's name, but left her in the dark little hall and creaked up the stairs. Lily hesitated. Then, feeling that Aunt Elinor might not like to find her so unceremoniously received, she pushed open a door which was only partly closed, and made a step into the room. Only then did she see that it was occupied. A man sat by the fire, reading. He was holding his book low, to get the light from the fire, and he turned slowly to glance at Lily. He had clearly expected some one else. Elinor, probably.
"I beg your pardon," Lily said. "I am calling on Mrs. Doyle, and when I saw the firelight - "
He stood up then, a tall, thin man, with close-cropped gray mustache and heavy gray hair above a high, bulging forehead. She had never seen Jim Doyle, but Mademoiselle had once said that he had pointed ears, like a satyr. She had immediately recanted, on finding Lily searching in a book for a picture of a satyr. This man had ears pointed at the top. Lily was too startled then to analyze his face, but later on she was to know well the high, intellectual forehead, the keen sunken eyes, the full but firmly held mouth and pointed, satyr-like ears of that brilliant Irishman, cynic and arch scoundrel, Jim Doyle.
He was inspecting her intently.
"Please come in," he said. "Did the maid take your name?"
"No. I am Lily Cardew."
"I see." He stood quite still, eyeing her. "You are Anthony's granddaughter?"
"Just a moment." He went out, closing the door behind him, and she heard him going quickly up the stairs. A door closed above, and a weight settled down on the girl's heart. He was not going to let her see Aunt Elinor. She was frightened, but she was angry, too. She would not run away. She would wait until he came down, and if he was insolent, well, she could be haughty. She moved to the fire and stood there, slightly flushed, but very straight.
She heard him coming down again almost immediately. He was outside the door. But he did not come in at once. She had a sudden impression that he was standing there, his hand on the knob, outlining what he meant to say to her when he showed the door to a hated Cardew. Afterwards she came to know how right that impression was. He was never spontaneous. He was a man who debated everything, calculated everything beforehand.
When he came in it was slowly, and with his head bent, as though he still debated within himself. Then:
"I think I have a right to ask what Anthony Cardew's granddaughter is doing in my house."
"Your wife's niece has come to call on her, Mr. Doyle."
"Are you quite sure that is all?"
"I assure you that is all," Lily said haughtily. "It had not occurred to me that you would be here."
"I dare say. Still, strangely enough, I do spend a certain amount of time in my home."
Lily picked up her muff.
"If you have forbidden her to come down, I shall go."
"Wait," he said slowly. "I haven't forbidden her to see you. I asked her to wait. I wanted a few moments. You see, it is not often that I have a Cardew in my house, and I am a selfish man."
She hated him. She loathed his cold eyes, his long, slim white hands. She hated him until he fascinated her.
"Sit down, and I will call Mrs. Doyle."
He went out again, but this time it was the elderly maid who went up the stairs. Doyle himself came back, and stood before her on the hearth rug. He was slightly smiling, and the look of uncertainty was gone.
"Now that you've seen me, I'm not absolutely poisonous, am I, Miss Lily? You don't mind my calling you that, do you? You are my niece. You have been taught to hate me, of course."
"Yes," said Lily, coldly.
"By Jove, the truth from a Cardew!" Then: "That's an old habit of mine, damning the Cardews. I'll have to try to get over it, if they are going to reestablish family relations." He was laughing at her, Lily knew, and she flushed somewhat.
"I wouldn't make too great an effort, then," she said.
He smiled again, this time not unpleasantly, and suddenly he threw into his rich Irish voice an unexpected softness. No one knew better than Jim Doyle the uses of the human voice.
"You mustn't mind me, Miss Lily. I have no reason to love your family, but I am very happy that you came here to-day. My wife has missed her people. If you'll run in like this now and then it will do her worlds of good. And if my being here is going to keep you away I can clear out."
She rather liked him for that speech. He was totally unlike what she had been led to expect, and she felt a sort of resentment toward her family for misleading her. He was a gentleman, on the surface at least. He had not been over-cordial at first, but then who could have expected cordiality under the circumstances? In Lily's defense it should be said that the vicissitudes of Elinor's life with Doyle had been kept from her always. She had but two facts to go on: he had beaten her grandfather as a young man, for a cause, and he held views as to labor which conflicted with those of her family.
Months later, when she learned all the truth, it was too late.
"Of course you're being here won't keep me away, if you care to have me come."
He was all dignity and charm then. They needed youth in that quiet place. They ought all to be able to forget the past, which was done with, anyhow. He showed the first genuine interest she had found in her work at the camp, and before his unexpected geniality the girl opened like a flower.
And all the time he was watching her with calculating eyes. He was a gambler with life, and he rather suspected that he had just drawn a valuable card.
"Thank you," he said gravely, when she had finished. "You have done a lot to bridge the gulf that lies - I am sure you have noticed it - between the people who saw service in this war and those who stayed at home."
Suddenly Lily saw that the gulf between her family and herself was just that, which was what he had intended.
When Elinor came in they were absorbed in conversation, Lily flushed and eager, and her husband smiling, urbane, and genial.
To Lily, Elinor Doyle had been for years a figure of mystery. She had not seen her for many years, and she had, remembered a thin, girlish figure, tragic-eyed, which eternally stood by a window in her room, looking out. But here was a matronly woman, her face framed with soft, dark hair, with eyes like her father's, with Howard Cardew's ease of manner, too, but with a strange passivity, either of repression or of fires early burned out and never renewed.
Lily was vaguely disappointed. Aunt Elinor, in soft gray silk, matronly, assured, unenthusiastically pleased to see her; Doyle himself, cheerful and suave; the neat servant; the fire lit, comfortable room, - there was no drama in all that, no hint of mystery or tragedy. All the hatred at home for an impulsive assault of years ago, and - this!
"Lily, dear!" Elinor said, and kissed her. "Why, Lily, you are a woman!"
"I am twenty, Aunt Elinor."
"Yes, of course. I keep forgetting. I live so quietly here that the days go by faster than I know." She put Lily back in her chair, and glanced at her husband.
"Is Louis coming to dinner, Jim?"
"I suppose you cannot stay, Lily?"
"I ought to tell you, Aunt Elinor. Only mother knows that I am here."
Aunt Elinor smiled her quiet smile.
"I understand, dear. How are they all?"
"Grandfather is very well. Father looks tired. There is some trouble at the mill, I think."
Elinor glanced at Doyle, but he said nothing.
"And your mother?"
"She is well."
Lily was commencing to have an odd conviction, which was that her Aunt Elinor was less glad to have her there than was Jim Doyle. He seemed inclined to make up for Elinor's lack of enthusiasm by his own. He built up a larger fire, and moved her chair near it.
"Weather's raw," he said. "Sure you are comfortable now? And why not have dinner here? We have an interesting man coming, and we don't often have the chance to offer our guests a charming young lady."
"Lily only came home yesterday, Jim," Elinor observed. "Her own people will want to see something of her. Besides, they do no know she is here."
Lily felt slightly chilled. For years she had espoused her Aunt Elinor's cause; in the early days she had painfully hemstitched a small handkerchief each fall and had sent it, with much secrecy, to Aunt Elinor's varying addresses at Christmas. She had felt a childish resentment of Elinor Doyle's martyrdom. And now -
"Her father and grandfather are dining out to-night." Had Lily looked up she would have seen Doyle's eyes fixed on his wife, ugly and menacing.
"Dining out?" Lily glanced at him in surprise.
"There is a dinner to-night, for the - " He checked himself "The steel manufacturers are having a meeting," he finished. "I believe to discuss me, among other things. Amazing the amount of discussion my simple opinions bring about."
Elinor Doyle, unseen, made a little gesture of despair and surrender.
"I hope you will stay, Lily," she said. "You can telephone, if you like. I don't see you often, and there is so much I want to ask you."
In the end Lily agreed. She would find out from Grayson if the men were really dining out, and if they were Grayson would notify her mother that she was staying. She did not quite know herself why she had accepted, unless it was because she was bored and restless at home. Perhaps, too, the lure of doing a forbidden thing influenced her sub-consciously, the thought that her grandfather would detest it. She had not forgiven him for the night before.
Jim Doyle left her in the back hall at the telephone, and returned to the sitting room, dosing the door behind him. His face was set and angry.
"I thought I told you to be pleasant."
"I tried, Jim. You must remember I hardly know her." She got up and placed her hand on his arm, but he shook it off. "I don't understand, Jim, and I wish you wouldn't. What good is it?"
"I've told you what I want. I want that girl to come here, and to like coming here. That's plain, isn't it? But if you're going to sit with a frozen face - She'll be useful. Useful as hell to a preacher."
"I can't use my family that way."
"You and your family! Now listen, Elinor. This isn't a matter o the Cardews and me. It may be nothing, but it may be a big thing. I hardly know yet - " His voice trailed off; he stood with his head bent, lost in those eternal calculations with which Elinor Doyle was so familiar.
The doorbell rang, and was immediately followed by the opening and closing of the front door.
>From her station at the telephone Lily Cardew saw a man come in, little more than a huge black shadow, which placed a hat on the stand and then, striking a match, lighted the gas overhead. In the illumination he stood before the mirror, smoothing back his shining black hair. Then he saw her, stared and retreated into the sitting room.
"Got company, I see."
"My niece, Lily Cardew," said Doyle, dryly.
The gentleman seemed highly amused. Evidently he considered Lily's presence in the house in the nature of a huge joke. He was conveying this by pantomime, in deference to the open door, when Doyle nodded toward Elinor.
"It's customary to greet your hostess, Louis."
"Easiest thing I do," boasted the new arrival cheerily. "'Lo, Mrs. Doyle. Is our niece going to dine with us?"
"I don't know yet, Mr. Akers," she said, without warmth. Louis Akers knew quite well that Elinor did not like him, and the thought amused him, the more so since as a rule women liked him rather too well. Deep in his heart he respected Jim Doyle's wife, and sometimes feared her. He respected her because she had behind her traditions of birth and wealth, things he professed to despise but secretly envied. He feared her because he trusted no woman, and she knew too much.
She loved Jim Doyle, but he had watched her, and he knew that sometimes she hated Doyle also. He knew that could be, because there had been women who had both loved and hated himself.
Elinor had gone out, and Akers sat down.
"Well," he said, in a lowered tone. "I've written it."
Doyle closed the door, and stood again with his head lowered, considering.
"You'd better look over it," continued Lou. "I don't want to be jailed. You're better at skating over thin ice than I am. And I've been thinking over the Prohibition matter, Jim. In a sense you're right. It will make them sullen and angry. But they won't go the limit without booze. I'd advise cache-ing a lot of it somewhere, to be administered when needed."
Doyle returned to his old place on the hearth-rug, still thoughtful. He had paid no attention to Aker's views on Prohibition, nor to the paper laid upon the desk in the center of the room.
"Do you know that that girl in the hall will be worth forty million dollars some day?"
"Some money," said Akers, calmly. "Which reminds me, Jim, that I've got to have a raise. And pretty soon."
"You get plenty, if you'd leave women alone."
"Tell them to leave me alone, then," said Akers, stretching out his long legs. "All right. We'll talk about that, after dinner. What about this forty millions?"
Doyle looked at him quickly. Akers' speech about women had crystallized the vague plans which Lily's arrival had suddenly given rise to. He gave the young man a careful scrutiny, from his handsome head to his feet, and smiled. It had occurred to him that the Cardew family would loathe a man of Louis Akers' type with an entire and whole-hearted loathing.
"You might try to make her have a pleasant evening," he suggested dryly. "And, to do that, it might be as well to remember a number of things, one of which is that she is accustomed to the society of gentlemen."
"All right, old dear," said Akers, without resentment.
"She hates her grandfather like poison," Doyle went on. "She doesn't know it, but she does. A little education, and it is just possible - "
"Get Olga. I'm no kindergarten teacher."
"You haven't seen her in the light yet."
Louis Akers smiled and carefully settled his tie.
Like Doyle, Akers loved the game of life, and he liked playing for high stakes. He had joined forces with Doyle because the game was dangerous and exciting, rather than because of any real conviction. Doyle had a fanatic faith, with all his calculation, but Louis Akers had only calculation and ambition. A practicing attorney in the city, a specialist in union law openly, a Red in secret, he played his triple game shrewdly and with zest.
Doyle turned to go, then stopped and came back. "I was forgetting something," he said, slowly. "What possessed you to take that Boyd girl to the Searing Building the other night?"
"Who told you that?"
"Woslosky saw you coming out."
"I had left something there," Akers said sullenly. "That's the truth, whether you believe it or not. I wasn't there two minutes.
"You're a fool, Louis," Doyle said coldly. "You'll play that game once too often. What happens to you is your own concern, but what may happen to me is mine. And I'll take mighty good care it doesn't happen."
Doyle was all unction and hospitality when he met Lily in the hall. At dinner he was brilliant, witty, the gracious host. Akers played up to him. At the foot of the table Elinor sat, outwardly passive, inwardly puzzled, and watched Lily. She knew the contrast the girl must be drawing, between the bright little meal, with its simple service and clever talk, and those dreary formal dinners at home when old Anthony sometimes never spoke at all, or again used his caustic tongue like a scourge. Elinor did not hate her father; he was simply no longer her father. As for Howard, she had had a childish affection for him, but he had gone away early to school, and she hardly knew him. But she did not want his child here, drinking in as she was, without clearly understanding what they meant, Doyle's theories of unrest and revolution.
"You will find that I am an idealist, in a way," he was saying. "That is, if you come often. I hope you will, by the way. I am perpetually dissatisfied with things as they are, and wanting them changed. With the single exception of my wife" - he bowed to Elinor, "and this little party, which is delightful."
"Are you a Socialist?" Lily demanded, in her direct way.
"Well, you might call it that. I go a bit further."
"Don't talk politics, Jim," Elinor hastily interposed. He caught her eye and grinned.
"I'm not talking politics, my dear." He turned to Lily, smiling.
"For one thing, I don't believe that any one should have a lot of money, so that a taxicab could remain ticking away fabulous sums while a charming young lady dines at her leisure." He smiled again.
"Will it be a lot?" Lily asked. "I thought I'd better keep him, because - " She hesitated.
"Because this neighborhood is unlikely to have a cab stand? You were entirely right. But I can see that you won't like my idealistic community. You see, in it everybody will have enough, and nobody will have too much."
"Don't take him too seriously, Miss Cardew," said Akers, bending forward. "You and I know that there isn't such a thing as too much."
Elinor changed the subject; as a girl she had drawn rather well, and she had retained her interest in that form of art. There was an exhibition in town of colored drawings. Lily should see them. But Jim Doyle countered her move.
"I forgot to mention," he said, "that in this ideal world we were discussing the arts will flourish. Not at once, of course, because the artists will be fighting - "
"Per aspera ad astra," put in Louis Akers. "You cannot change a world in a day, without revolution - "
"But you don't believe that revolution is ever worth while, do you?"
"If it would drive starvation and wretchedness from the world, yes."
Lily found Louis Akers interesting. Certainly he was very handsome. And after all, why should there be misery and hunger in the world? There must be enough for all. It was hardly fair, for instance, that she should have so much, and others scarcely anything. Only it was like thinking about religion; you didn't get anywhere with it. You wanted to be good, and tried to be. And you wanted to love God, only He seemed so far away, mostly. And even that was confusing, because you prayed to God to be forgiven for wickedness, but it was to His Son our Lord one went for help in trouble.
One could be sorry for the poor, and even give away all one had, but that would only help a few. It would have to be that every one who had too much would give up all but what he needed.
Lily tried to put that into words.
"Exactly," said Jim Doyle. "Only in my new world we realize that there would be a few craven spirits who might not willingly give up what they have. In that case it would be taken from them."
"And that is what you call revolution?"
"But that's not revolution. It is a sort of justice, isn't it?"
"You think very straight, young lady," said Jim Doyle.
He had a fascinating theory of individualism, too; no man should impose his will and no community its laws, on the individual. Laws were for slaves. Ethics were better than laws, to control.
"Although," he added, urbanely, "I daresay it might be difficult to convert Mr. Anthony Cardew to such a belief."
While Louis Akers saw Lily to her taxicab that night Doyle stood in the hall, waiting. He was very content with his evening's work.
"Well?" he said, when Akers returned.
"Merry as a marriage bell. I'm to show her the Brunelleschi drawings to-morrow."
Slightly flushed, he smoothed his hair in front of the mirror over the stand.
"She's a nice child," he said. In his eyes was the look of the hunting animal that scents food.